Review: 'Doom 3' delivers better visuals, same game play
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.
The latest chapter of "Doom," the quintessential action title in computer gaming, is more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Without a doubt, "Doom 3" is the most visually appealing and best sounding PC game to date, but it doesn't bring anything new to the "3-D shooter" genre in terms of the game play, which is basically 1993's "Doom" all over again.
That's not necessarily a bad thing.
The end result is a wonderfully intense, atmospheric and violent action experience that is technically groundbreaking -- if you have a computer that's powerful enough to run it.
In "Doom 3," you assume the role of a Marine reporting for duty at a research facility on Mars. Shortly after your arrival, a scientist opens a portal to a hellish dimension and launches a demonic invasion that also transforms the base's personnel into zombie-like killers. It's your mission to close the portal and find out why the scientist opened it -- if you can stay alive long enough.
For the uninitiated, "Doom" and "Doom II" are played from a first-person perspective where all the action is seen through the eyes of the main character. Game play involves navigating through the Mars base, finding weapons of mass destruction and unleashing them against wave after wave of enemy attacks. Players also must locate medical kits, armor and ammunition.
"Doom 3" plays out much the same way, but with a couple of important exceptions. First, players carry a handy personal digital assistant (PDA) that can be accessed by tapping the tab key. It brings up information such as important story elements or numeric passwords that are used to unlock new areas of the base. The PDA also displays e-mail messages, audio logs from other characters and video clips.
Also new to the game is a flashlight -- a good idea considering "Doom 3" is one of the darkest adventures around. It's too bad, however, that you can't carry a flashlight and a weapon at the same time. You must toggle between the two when fighting the game's horrifying creatures.
"Doom 3" is scary. Throughout the game's more than two-dozen single-player levels, demons and transformed zombie humans will hunt you down in claustrophobic corridors, drop from the ceiling, tear through a staircase underneath you or jump through air vents along the wall.
Artistically, "Doom 3" is unprecedented. Even on the low or medium graphics settings (which might be all your computer can muster), the characters, enemies and environments are superbly detailed -- so much so that the game resembles a computer-animated feature film.
And because it's a "Doom" game, players can expect plenty of violence and gore. Shooting creatures at close range with a shotgun or rocket launcher will cause their body parts to fly off, leaving the remains in a pile of red, steaming mush. Parents should be aware the game is rated mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and isn't recommended for youngsters under 17.
The audio is as impressive as the graphics. You'll hear moans, grunts, screams and cries seemingly from every direction -- even if you have only two speakers or are wearing headphones. The game does offer true 5.1 surround sound if your sound card and speaker system support it.
While the game is a technical masterpiece, you will need a powerful computer to run it. Minimum requirements are a 1.5-gigahertz Intel Pentium 4 or an AMD Athlon XP 1500+ with 384 megabytes of memory and a 3-D video card with at least 64MB of video memory. "Doom 3" also requires 2.6 gigabytes of hard drive space.
Even if your computer meets the minimum requirements, don't count on smooth play. "Doom 3" crashed or froze often on two of three computers where it was tested. Some players have experienced similar problems, according to a glance at Activision's online support forum. Until these bugs are worked out, save often (the F5 key is reserved for "Quick Saves" that do not interrupt the game play).
"Doom 3" offers a few multiplayer modes playable over the Internet, such as the classic "Deathmatch" (every player for himself) and "Team Deathmatch" (the team with the most "frags," or kills, wins). It is a breeze to find and launch an online head-to-head match from the game's main multiplayer menu.
While it's essentially the same game that broke ground more than a decade ago, "Doom 3" delivers remarkable graphics and atmosphere. For that alone, you can count it among the best computer games of the year.